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To acquire wisdom, one must observe

Students hold vigil for lost Palestinian lives

On March 6, more than 200 Brandeis community members gathered in the Shapiro Campus Center (SCC) to hold a vigil to mourn “30,543 martyrs in Gaza.” A group of attendees gathered at 7 p.m. and one of the vigil’s organizers began the event with a request that nobody record the vigil. Notably, although there were no uniformed police officers or private security officers present, protest organizers claimed to have identified two undercover police vehicles parked outside of the SCC.

Shortly after the event began, Brandeis students and faculty members stood up in front of the crowd and spoke. 

One attendee took the stage and spoke of how Palestinian families have experienced the destruction of families, neighborhoods, families and historical features for the past 152 days. Speaking to people who are not supportive of Palestine, they asked “do you not see what I see, do you not know what I know, is your life not affected in the slightest?”

At this point, Hoot reporters present at the event noticed that several students could be seen on the second floor balcony of the SCC. Notably, these students were seen recording this vigil.

Several more attendees spoke, including one speaker who led the crowd in a Hebrew prayer and another attendee who led others in a moment of silence to “think, grieve, just be.” Another person took the stage, sharing their thoughts on the violence in Palestine and reciting the poem “If I Must Die,” by Refaat Alareer.

One of the vigil organizers later spoke, asking that everyone, “including the people upstairs,” not to record. This speaker called recording the vigil disrespectful, and the student(s) who were recording the event left shortly after they were recognized by this speaker. This speaker also mentioned that there was a collaborative art piece that all attendees were welcome to contribute to. After the event, this collaborative piece could be seen adorned with statements including “Glory to our martyrs,” “IDF are the real terrorists” and “fuck this racist institution, glad I am transferring.”

More attendees spoke, with one adding that “what makes it 100 times more painful is that our leaders of the school and country think this is okay.” They also said that “This school is named after the greatest defender of free speech to sit on the Supreme Court [and it] uses its police force to shut down anyone that disagrees with it.”

Another attendee took the stage, noting that “institutions can’t run without money” and that “There’s a very powerful and wealthy anti-Palestine lobby that runs everything in this school.” This speaker also said that “It’s hypocritical [for Brandeis] to say, ‘look at all these amazing students we created’ when Brandeis is the villain origin story for so many people. [Brandeis students] are not happy with our name being misappropriated. We do not support Brandeis’ anti-Palestine actions. I’m embarrassed to have the name Brandeis on my resume, I don’t want employers thinking I also support genocide.”

An attendee who identified themselves as Jewish said that Brandeis “doesn’t have space for anti-Zionist Jews.” Another Jewish attendee spoke, calling the statement that “Zionism is just self-determination” a lie. 

One attendee read the poem “Fuck Your Lecture on Craft, My People Are Dying” by Noor Hindi, another added that pro-Palestinian voices are silenced at Brandeis, and one more pointed out that 75% of all journalist deaths in 2023 occurred in Gaza (substantiated by multiple news sources). This speaker noted that the last time the Brandeis community spoke up about Palestine, seven people were arrested. They also noted that the community gathered here today is an act of resistance.

One more attendee, who also identified themselves as Jewish, said that this was their first time ever coming to a protest or a vigil. They added that their view on the Palestine-Israel conflict has evolved, and that they “cannot accept liberation on the basis of occupation.”

Another speaker, who identified themselves as a member of Brandeis faculty, asked that student attendees “don’t let their grief turn into melancholy.” They told students that their grief and rage are powerful, and noted that those emotions should be channeled towards the asking of questions. They added that Brandeis students are not just here because they’re brilliant, but because they’re learning how to, and always have known how to, ask questions. They shouldn’t be scared away from doing so, this faculty member added.

Two Palestinian students also spoke, with the first mentioning how much having a large crowd at a vigil means to them at a “Zionist institution.” They added that “what used to be a peaceful, wonderful country has been torn apart by this … genocide.” The second Palestinian student said that Israel is mass punishing all Palestinians, adding that their family in the West Bank cannot find food. They noted that there are Palestinians dying in Jerusalem every single day, not from bombs but from starvation.

Another speaker, who identified themselves as a Middle Eastern student, said that they check the news every day and pray that they don’t see their family’s town on the list of towns affected by Israel’s attacks on Lebanon. This student also said that they don’t feel safe at Brandeis, noting that they feel they’ll be targeted if they play Arabic media out loud.

Closing out the vigil, one of the organizers mentioned that this community must continue taking action. Another organizer noted that Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Revolutionary Student Organization (RSO) don’t need recognition from Brandeis to work. 

Following the vigil on March 6, The Hoot spoke with two members of SJP and two members of RSO about the event, Brandeis’ response to the Palestine-Israel conflict, and more.

 

Speaking specifically about the vigil, one of the RSO members mentioned that it “exceeded all of our expectations based on turnout and also it all going relatively smoothly.” Another RSO member added that their “primary concern was not especially about turnout, it was about police presence. I was pacing beforehand. I was like, ‘are we gonna get arrested or is there gonna be a police riot again?’ But a lot of people showed up [and] there was no police harassment. It exceeded my expectations.”

One of the SJP members added that “in terms of turnout, it blew our expectations [away] because 30,000 people had died, but it felt like no one cared. … I think the official number [of protest attendees] is above 200 and that really blew us … away.” This student went on, adding that “one thing that did not surprise us was counter protestors or someone recording from the top [levels of the campus center]. We discussed that during the meetings and we had protocols for them. It was very disappointing to know that there were still people there. I don’t know what their intentions were, maybe it’s stalking, maybe it’s endangering or capturing identity. Regardless, we felt like that was a counter-protest and very disrespectful on a lot of levels.”

Another SJP member added that “especially on this campus, there’s not really much space for people to visualize or vocalize specific opinions about Palestine. In terms of wearing keffiyeh around campus or [waving the Palestinian] flag or openly discussing [the conflict] in the public. Part of what we’re trying to do is … give people a space to actually express their opinion and say what they’ve been limited to say by this institution. We definitely achieved that goal. We were a little bit worried that people wouldn’t be as comfortable speaking up and vocalizing their opinions. But as you saw … people were very comfortable going up and saying what they were feeling.

Speaking more specifically on how Brandeis holds space for non-Zionist viewpoints, one SJP member added that “it’s interesting, especially considering how much [Brandeis] centers social justice.” This SJP member added that the Dean of Students office “reached out to us about [our] Instagram page and told us that we’re not allowed to use the [Brandeis] name, logo or seal in anything that we do on social media.” Emails that the SJP interviewees showed The Hoot confirmed this.

The SJP students noted that this behavior by the university goes all the way back to when SJP was derecognized, noting that there was no warning given to SJP and alleging that the club was “derecognized that fast without any respect for the protocols or how the bureaucratic system of Brandeis works.” The SJP students also felt that the request from the Dean of Students Office that the group stop using Brandeis’ logos and name was hypocritical, as the “frats and sororities that our students love so much use the Brandeis seal and logo all the time. But what happens to them? Have you had people reaching out to them and threatening them with violations? Of course not. I think [Brandeis’] stance on anti-Zionism is very clear and they don’t have to say it directly.”

One of the RSO members gave their thoughts on Brandeis’ space for non-Zionist thought, adding that “Brandeis does not provide adequate space for anti-Zionist perspectives. And I would like to go further and say that Brandeis does not provide space for non-Zionist perspectives at all. What they have shown through their actions is that they do not care for or want non-Zionist perspectives. That creates a tension with their marketing. That’s really the only investment that Brandeis has for non-Zionist perspectives: how much it goes against their social justice marketing.” This student later added that “[Brandeis is] actively hostile to non-Zionist perspectives.”

The other RSO member added that “this is also a pattern of behavior that goes on far before the derecognition of SJP. IfNotNow, in I believe 2018 was de-recognized. The only clubs that have not been able to get chartered by the student union in the last, like, five years have been political organizations.” The Hoot’s coverage of the complex situation surrounding IfNotNow’s club status can be found on our website.

Speaking specifically on students recording the vigil from the second floor of the SCC, one RSO member said “that behavior would be so not tolerated in any instance other than pro-Palestinian speech. There was a peace vigil hosted by the Center of Spiritual Life earlier that day and I’m sure if anyone was recording that they would’ve had disciplinary action or some instance of retribution.”

The other RSO member noted that they felt “disappointed, frustrated, angry, insulted, but not surprised. When an institution demonstrates active hostility towards a specific perspective, it makes the students who believe that that perspective should be silenced emboldened. It makes them think it is appropriate to record a vigil after being explicitly told not to record a vigil.”

One of the SJP members noted that they “agree with the points that RSO made: when you’ve been explicitly told by a group of people that you don’t want them recorded, I think that’s beyond going against consent, that should be written down as a hate crime in my opinion, because that was not targeted towards [just] any vigil, it was targeted towards a Palestinian vigil. There have been many vigils on campus, of course, spiritual life has done it and you didn’t have anyone actively trying to record it. Again, we don’t know what their intentions were, but when you’re explicitly told not to [record] and you do [regardless], I don’t think you have good intentions with … the footage.”

Speaking specifically on what Brandeis can do for the Palestine-Israel conflict moving forward, one SJP member said that “firstly, they need to have shame. … They need to first of all recognize what they have done and where they have wronged the students not just now, but over the past like 70 years. But that’s a conversation for a different day. But I think that something that’s important is just recognizing that what they did was not okay and how horrible it is. Explicitly saying that they are wrong would definitely be a first step.”

One of the RSO members added that “the university needs to demonstrate some self-awareness,” and the other RSO member said that they would call for “a total revoking of their support through the genocide. I think that their actions go far beyond their actions towards students. They actively support and fund many facets of the Zionist apparatus that is complicit in genocide and is actively killing people. The university needs to recognize that and completely pull away from all of their ties with Israel and the genocide.”

The other SJP member added that “our aims, our hopes for this university are not idealism that they like … get down from their position and be like ‘okay, we support Palestine 100%.” We know that there are very Zionist ideologies associated with the creation of this university. But what we are asking [for] is a safe space for non-Zionist students, a fair chance for them to show their opinions. If you just looked at the protests yesterday, most of the speakers and most of the people there were people of color or international students, and we had many Jewish students as well. This is the diversity the school likes to brag about so much, and you have to suffer the consequences of diversity. You’re gonna get many viewpoints that you don’t like and you better put up with it. It’s your duty, it’s your moral obligation. Of course our long-term goal is to get the university to denounce the genocide, to admit their wrongdoings and completely cut their support for the Zionist ideology.” 

This student added that they “think a lot of people here, including myself and all the Zionists on campus, have much to learn about Palestine, have much to get educated on, including our very [own] president Ron Liebowitz. I think he can take a broader perspective on the matter and evaluate things from a non-biased perspective. That would truly embody the motto of our university ‘truth even unto its innermost parts.’”

The other SJP member added that this is an institutional failure, and that they “want to know who specifically in admin is continuing to perpetuate this because I know it’s not all the professors, I know it’s not all the faculty. I don’t even know if it’s Ron Liebowitz or if he’s speaking for somebody else. I want to know who specifically is perpetuating this continued suppression of voices. And I want to know specifically why they’re doing so. In the future, I want the university to just be a lot more transparent about who’s calling the shots. I’m not gonna be fooled into believing this is, um, some sort of [monolith]. … I know there are individual people who are behind this and there are individual voices and individual opinions who have so much power that they’re able to call the police and arrest seven people during a peaceful protest.”

In closing, one of the SJP members mentioned that they want the Brandeis community “to think of this vigil not as an ending, but rather as a start to more [pro-]Palestinian activities on campus.”

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